A new poll finds that Americans of different faiths have widely varying opinions of President Obama and Mitt Romney, with white evangelical voters overwhelmingly supporting the likely Republican nominee.
White evangelicals have traditionally been a reliable reservoir of Republican support, and the 2010 election cycle appears to be no different. White evangelical Protestant voters backed Romney over Obama by a nearly 50-point margin of 68 to 19, a chasm that is still slightly smaller than the advantage Sen. John McCain and President George W. Bush held over their Democratic rivals in 2008 and 2004, respectively. Romney's favorability rating among white evangelical Protestants has soared to 67 percent, up from 40 percent in October 2011.
The survey signals that white evangelical Protestant voters are moving beyond the reservations they may have held earlier in the campaign about Romney's Mormon faith, Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the survey, said in a press release.
Obama fared well among white mainline Protestants and all Catholics, although he trailed Romney among white Catholics. He also registered an impressive lead among Americans unaffiliated with any particular church, a group that is the fastest-growing of any religious subset in the United States.
Voters are also becoming more knowledgeable about and accepting of Romney's Mormon faith. A narrow majority of voters, 51 percent, correctly identified Romney as Mormon. That figure rose to two thirds among white evangelicals, white Protestants and Republican voters.
President Obama's beliefs remain a mystery to many. Thirty-Nine percent of voters were unsure of the president's religious beliefs and just over a third knew that Obama was a Christian or, more accurately, a Protestant. A sixth of voters believed Obama was a Muslim, a tenacious myth that the president has been unable to fully dispel.
Still, the poll suggested that Obama and Romney are both seen as outsiders: Only 38 percent said Obama's faith was similar to their own, compared to a mere 30 percent for Mitt Romney. Voters do seem to be learning more about Romney's religious affiliation over time, while awareness of Obama's beliefs is mostly static.
The survey also uncovered an interesting bit of cognitive dissonance about the relationship between voting preferences and faith. A majority of voters said it was not significant to them if a candidate shared their religious beliefs (the trend was different for white evangelicals, two thirds of whom said it was somewhat or very important). But Romney and Obama both did far worse among voters who believed the candidate's beliefs were different from their own.